In the last decade or so, bee populations of all species have been in decline, a fact that will not only affect the natural environment, but also is taking a toll on the agricultural industry. Bees are important pollinators for many of the foods that we enjoy every day. In California alone, there are over 50 crops dependent on honeybees for pollination, including strawberries and almonds, which equals billions of dollars of produce every year. As honeybees decline, the yield of these crops goes down, and prices go up. Another side effect as the crop yield goes down is the loss of jobs.
The main reasons for the decline of honeybees and other species of bees are disease and pesticide use. Diseases, spread by mites and parasites affect both domestic and wild bee populations. The spread of these diseases is being studies by researchers around the world, and strategies are being developed to decrease the spread of the parasites and the diseases affecting bee populations.
While the spread of disease among bees is left to scientists to deal with, the issue of pesticide use is something that all of us can help reduce and hopefully – someday – eliminate. Pesticides are commonly used as a cheaper way to rid plants of pests, but they often affect not just the pesky insects, but also the beneficial ones as well. Bees, in particular, take the pesticide-infused pollen and nectar from flowers back to their hive, affecting not just the individual insect, but an entire hive.
Though the problem seems much larger than any individual person, there are ways to help affect change as a single person, family, or farm. Choosing more natural pest-control options for your own garden or farm is a first step. These could include the introduction of beneficial insects, or the addition of nematodes to your garden’s soil, as well as many other natural pest-control options. You can also reduce, if not eliminate, the use of traditional pesticides by replacing them with organic pesticides that are friendly to bees and other pollinators. Check out this list from the Xerces Society.
Other more tangible options that both farmers and gardeners alike can take to help bee populations include:
- Raising their own honeybee colonies, using healthier hives such as the Warré Bee Hive
- Encouraging native bee populations such as bumble and mason bees by placing nest boxes on your property
- Planting a diverse range of plants to attract honey bees as well as native bee populations
For more ideas for protecting bees, as well as other pollinators, check out the Xerces Society’s Pollinator Conservation Resource Center, where you can find lists of plants native to your area, as well as other ideas for helping to encourage pollinators in your area.